The Story Behind Snopes' RFK Jr. Investigation

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

I began reporting this story part-time last summer. For most of the project's lifespan, it had nothing to do with RFK Jr. I was originally drawn to The Control Group's unscientific claims because my work intersected with that of anti-vaccine tech entrepreneur Steve Kirsch. He cited The Control Group's material in testimony given to a "medical freedom" panel convened by a Pennsylvania State Senate committee. Thanks to savvy social media use, a video of that testimony regularly goes viral.

In June 2023, my editors assigned me to fact-check the oddly phrased claim that vitamin K "did not exist." The claim had gone viral, it turned out, because of the Kirsch video, and he took the language from Joy Garner's Control Group report. A month or so later, another portion of Kirsch's video about autism went viral. In it, he cited a retracted study that I have written about multiple times. Evidently enough people sent my work to him that he felt it necessary to contact me, out of the blue by email, challenging me to publicly debate a panel of pre-selected experts, including Garner.

I declined the offer. He would later decline my offer to comment on my story. What struck me the most about Kirsch was his repeated use of the Control Group study. I looked into the report, and it was immediately clear that I was looking at one of the least scientific documents ever to be described as a "study" (and I've worked at Snopes investigating such claims for eight years). When he doubled down on their work on Twitter several more times, I became obsessed and spent several weeks fact-checking The Control Group's claims as the people behind it called me names involving demons, ghouls, and Bill Gates.

What I produced at that time was, in essence, interesting only to me. But I had so much material that I knew there was a story if I could place the study in the proper context. When RFK Jr. published a book that also cited The Control Group in August, I went down another rabbit hole. What I found was that RFK not only cited it, but he and his nonprofit organization gave it wide exposure and at least tangentially aided their legal campaign against Biden over vaccine mandates. Eventually, by listening to every podcast Garner has ever appeared on, I discovered that the idea for the study itself came to Garner when she was attending a Kennedy rally in 2019.

With the help of my talented editors (and the painful sacrifice of about 8,000 words), I reframed the story around the processes by which a document like The Control Group study, with its significant and self-evident limitations, goes viral. The end result was a powerful message about the power Kennedy, a presidential candidate, has to spread and potentially inspire dangerous misinformation. I couldn't be happier with the final product.